At just 230 pounds, Groves had been impressive in pass rushing drills this fall, but with an abundance of veteran players and physical newcomers like Doug Langenfeld, it appeared he was likely headed for a redshirt this season. That all changed on Thursday when he got the word that he would be working with Coach Joe Whitt at linebacker. After playing both positions in high school, Groves said following the practice that it was definitely a new experience for him.
"It's just a big learning process," Groves said. "I'm just learning from Karlos (Karlos Dansby), D.T. (Dontarrious Thomas) and those guys and Coach Whitt. I'm just enjoying the experience and try to hopefully get on the field next year.
"I'm just trying to get my drops right and my reads right. I'm learning from Karlos and D.T., who are big teachers might I add. That's all I have to do to get better is to learn from those guys."
Groves chases the ball carrier in Thursday's practice while freshman tight end Cole Bennett attempts to block him.
While the move isn't considered a permanent one, Groves said it doesn't really matter which position he plays as long as he gets on the field and can help the team. With speed in the 10.8 range in the 100 meters and outstanding athleticism, Groves may well find a home in the middle for years to come.
"This might be a real big break because if prove myself at middle linebacker it will be real huge for me," Groves added. "In my sophomore season I would already know what to do and could hopefully lead other incoming freshmen."
One positive Groves already sees is the chance to hit people harder than he could at defensive end. While the position was very much a contact one, defensive ends don't normally have the chance to lay the lumber on an offensive player. That's not the case now and the thoughts of that had Groves smiling.
"I've always wanted to really, really hit somebody, but I've never had the chance being a defensive end," Groves said. "I'm really overjoyed about it."
With the heat index still at 90 degrees a full hour after the Tigers walked off the field, Coach Tommy Tuberville got what he wished for Thursday and the result was the toughest practice of the fall for the Tigers. Working out in full pads for almost two and a half hours, the team focused on team drills once again and had a goal line drill for the first time this fall.
Even though Thomas, Dansby and Travis Williams didn't take part in the drills, the goal line work proved to be the highlight of the day if you are an offensive fan. Starting from the four-yard line on first down, the first team offense took four plays to score and capped the drive when Carnell Williams plunged over from the one-yard line on fourth down. For the second team it took just two plays as Tre Smith plowed to the one and Brandon Jacobs took it in for the touchdown on second down.
"We needed that," Tuberville said following the practice. "We're going to need more hot days. We found out it's a little bit different when you're out here and the sun is out. You can't lean on everybody, you have to do your job. It was a good practice.
"We had a good goal line scrimmage," he added. "The offense won, which is encouraging for them because I don't think they won a time last spring. It got enthusiasm back in practice because we had just about lost it for a while. This was one of the longest, toughest ones we've had. We're going to need many, many more."
The goal line drill builds on what has been a good week for the offense. Winning Wednesday's scrimmage despite not blowing away the defense, Tuberville said after watching film the offense did exactly what the coaching staff wanted out of them.
"They looked pretty good," Tuberville said. "They blocked the right people and we executed. The main thing in a practice like that is being able to focus for the first time instead of getting out there and just going crazy. The offense is at a disadvantage and I thought they did well. Defensively we made some alignment mistakes and didn't tackle very well."
Tailback Carnell Williams slithers over the goal line behind the blocking of fullback Jake Slaughter and tight end Steven Ross. Thursday's goal line drill was one of the more physical in recent memory.
Before team drills the offense and defense did several sessions of one-on-one and the battle of the day came between seniors Monreko Crittenden and Spencer Johnson. Both healthy and in great shape, the they both fought tooth and nail with each winning one play before a showdown on snap number three. That proved to be a stalemate, but brought on a rare occasion as both Coach Hugh Nall and Coach Don Dunn were happy following the play.
Another reason for the movement of Groves to linebacker could be the emergence of true freshman Marquies Gunn. Running with the first team defense much of the day with veterans Reggie Torbor and Jay Ratliff observing, Gunn showed a physical nature and speed off the corner that had the coaches excited. While he's likely a long way from pushing for a great deal of playing time, Gunn has emerged as one of the surprises and maybe the biggest surprise of fall camp.
Some good news on the defensive end front was the sighting of redshirt freshman Kyle Derozan running on the side during practice. Derozan should return to practice sometime next week to bolster an already deep defensive end position. There is still no word on the status of Stanley McClover though and no definite timetable has been given for a final decision.
The Tigers will practice in full pads Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. and again in shorts and helmets in the afternoon session to walk through plays for Saturday morning's scrimmage. The 150-play scrimmage will begin at 9:30 Saturday morning and will be held in Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is open to the public.